How Gardening Changed My Life & Made Me a Better Person

Gardening changed my life. And it can change yours too.

I’m not being cheesy or overly dramatic. Growing things has truly, 100%, fundamentally changed how I live my life and the perspective I have on the world. It’s impact has been so great that I feel not only compelled, but obligated to tell you about it, so you can experience the same thing.

How it Started

Contrary to popular belief, I’ve not had the pleasure of being around gardens and plants my whole life. My pap and I grew some tomatoes, sunflowers, and pumpkins through my younger years, and each had their own issues. The tomatoes grew decent, but we over-pruned them. The sunflowers grew beautifully, but faced our neighbor’s yard, not ours. And lastly, we successfully grew one pumpkin. A big pumpkin! A big green pumpkin. We solved that problem by painting it orange for Halloween!

Other than those experiences, I wasn’t intimately involved with growing anything until about five or six years ago. My husband and I had just moved to Georgia for my graduate school. We had a little apartment with a little balcony, and very little money (those grad school stipends aren’t the most lucrative, lol). After falling down the YouTube rabbit hole of garden/ farming videos, we stumbled upon a man named Justin Rhodes and his documentary, “The Great American Farm Tour.”

Planting Seeds of Change

After watching The Great American Farm Tour, we were really inspired. We had mentioned small things to each other off hand before, but this film made it seem possible. We could grow our own food. We could farm.

At first, it was kind of a joke between us. “We’re gonna get a farm one day,” we’d say and then laugh. Us? Farmers? It sounded great, but it also sounded impossible. We were both raised in the suburbs. My husband had even less gardening experience than I did. But, like the documentary said, we needed to “just plant.”

So that’s what we did. The first year we had one tomato plant (pictured below). We planted it in a medium size clay pot (the cheapest one we could find), and crossed our fingers. We didn’t know a whole lot (more like anything) about pruning, so while it grew well, we didn’t get a ton of production.

Growing Our Dreams

The next year we decided we would try again, and even expand a little! We went to Home Depot and bought some planters, dirt, and seeds/ plant starts. I can’t remember exactly, but I think we spent $30-$50 on that trip. We spent that much on seeds alone this year, but back then, it was a big deal. We were putting a real investment in to start our tiny balcony garden.

Home Depot Gardening

That first garden consisted of: one tomato plant with some basil, small planters with a variety of herbs, some lettuce, and a five gallon bucket with carrots.

  • The tomatoes grew decent, but we had no idea how to prune.
  • The herb garden became a mint garden. We had to learn the hard way that mint is a very strong plant, and extremely invasive. It choked out pretty much everything, or at least stunted its growth substantially.
  • The lettuce would have done well, had we not knocked it off our second floor balcony to the ground below…
  • The carrots in our five gallon bucket grew, and tasted TERRIBLE. Like, really bad. We didn’t know you need to keep soil fed and add nutrients through fertilizer and other amendments (even in organic gardening), which is why those carrots tasted bitter. We also were impatient and harvested them too early!
Gardening Changed my life

From Dreaming It to Doing It

Each year we gardened, we learned a little more and we had a little more success. That joke of becoming farmers one day became less of a dream and more of a goal. Instead of laughing when we talked about it, we became passionate. Excited. And driven.

The first time I mentioned our goals to my family, they laughed. And I would too! But when we kept talking about it, they stopped laughing and started to really think we were crazy… and that fueled me. I’m the type of person who likes to prove people wrong. I love being the squeaky wheel, and I love doing things despite the obstacles in my way. So the more our family tried to brush it off, the more determined we became.

Growing Slow, But Growing.

We knew this was a long game. Our financial and spacial limitations were going to keep us from the end goal for a while, but that was ok. We vowed to keep growing and learning with the resources we had. And so we did.

Over the past five years we’ve grown consistently. Whether we tried a new technique for starting seeds or expanded our growing space, we’ve worked to improve in some way. Additionally, we started shopping local when we could. We started shopping at the farmers market, buying a dozen eggs or one pound of ground beef per week, and slowly grew.

Now, six years from when we started, we have almost 1,000 square feet of growing space, we’re getting bees and rabbits this year, and we buy all our eggs and 90% of our meat from farmers just down the road. That YouTube rabbit hole has turned into a fulfilling, empowering lifestyle.

This Dream Changed My Life

I’ve outlined the process of how we caught the gardening bug, but I haven’t told you all the side effects. The “symptoms,” if you will.

  1. Conviction – Deciding to grow our own food and provide what we can for ourselves is not the “norm,” though it is becoming more and more popular. Choosing this way of life has convicted me in my beliefs about our food system and how I fuel my body. I feel passionate about connecting with my food (plant or animal), and knowing the full story.
  2. Confidence – I care what people think. A lot. But growing my own food, through all the successes and failures, has given me confidence in myself. Confidence that what I’m doing is worthwhile, that I have a lot to offer the world, and that my views, though maybe not the in the majority, are valid.
  3. Risk Taking – Each new garden season, the opportunities are endless. You get a fresh start. That repeated blank slate of new beginnings has made me feel so much more comfortable taking risks in the garden. Planting closer together, seeing how far we can extend our growing season, you name it. And since practicing risk taking in the garden, I’ve also become a better risk taker in the world. I’ve gone from someone who hates and resists any little change or doubt of certainty to someone to doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable with those things, but who can adapt and think of the bigger picture.
  4. Problem Solving – When you deal with things out of your control, you will inevitably hit obstacles. Gardening has given me tangible, safe areas to practice problem solving skills. Figuring out pest problems, soil deficiencies, and leggy seedlings are just a few of the obstacles I’ve encountered. Instead of just giving up and blaming something else I was able to take a step back and evaluate the situation with perspective rather than emotion. This has hugely translated to my life. I have been able to manage and deal with emotion and frustration so much more by realizing that not everything is in my control. Nor will it ever be. But I can work to figure things out one step at a time.
  5. Grace – Most of all, gardening has given me grace. With myself and with others. Instead of thinking “I should’ve known that!” or “It’s supposed to go this way, not that way!” I realize that I don’t know everything. Nor should I. Learning how to grow your own food is a process, and one that builds on years of experience. Failures and successes alike. Life is the same way. If something goes awry, I (most of the time, still working on this one 🙂 ) am able to separate myself from the issue, and not blame myself harshly. Acknowledging that you’re not perfect can be hard at first, but it is a major stress reliever once you do!

What’s Your Story?

Moving forward, I hope my story of growth through gardening has inspired you. To start. Just plant. And it doesn’t have to be gardening. The same principle applies. Whatever goal you want to achieve, just start. Slowly, day by day, month by month, and year by year you will grow and learn and before you know it you’ll be looking back at pictures of your scraggly tomato plant and thinking “that poor thing! Now I know so much more!”

If gardening is something you want to do, but you’re overwhelmed, have a bad case of decision paralysis (been there before!), or don’t have time to do all the research yourself, I’d love to invite you to take a course with me, starting February 26th. The five-week-long course is called How to Grow Your Own Food (anyone can do it!), and will help you start and maintain a strong garden, no matter the size of your space or budget. We’ll meet live on Saturday mornings to have some coffee, learn about gardening, and build community. You can learn more about the course here.

Keep in Touch!

I want to follow your gardening journey and support you along the way! Be sure to tag me in any photos you post on Instagram or Facebook @sweetgumspot, and follow me while you’re there! I look forward to celebrating our successes and working through challenges together!

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